Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Don’s Diary

(Standing on the Shoulders of Giants)

For those of us with a significant emotional investment in Freemasonry, it is natural that we will contemplate where the institution is going. This of course, will lead us to thinking about where we have come from and where we are now.

Rather than starting in accordance with some grand design, the largely oral history is that it all started in English pubs, particularly in staging post pubs. It is likely that it developed incrementally (making changes, especially social changes, by degrees: gradualism) within each pub lodge to suit social needs of its members and the context of the commercial pub business. The institution of pub Freemasonry was extensive and it seems that equifinality prevailed, that is the principle that in open systems a given end state can be reached by many potential means. The term and concept is from Hans Driesch, the developmental biologist, later applied by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, (Austrian biologist 1901 – 1972), the founder of general systems theory. In other words, the pub lodges were the fundamental, principle organisation and they all did more or less the same and it was a natural outcome from what they all were trying to achieve. Then came the institution of the Grand Lodge of England, a governing body, which sought to unify and coordinate the existing lodges which worked under one of two Grand Lodges that existed.

The Duke of Sussex, Grand Master of Grand Lodge of England from 1813 to 1843, is a towering figure in the history of English Freemasonry. However, he stood on the shoulders of giants, the founders of Freemasonry in the pubs and elsewhere. This concept is attributed to Bernard of Chartres, the 12th century French Philosopher. Its most familiar expression was by Newton in 1675: "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." (Sir Isaac Newton, 1642-1726, English mathematician, astromoner and physicist, one of the most influential scientists of all time.)

The Duke of Sussex played a pivotal role in the unification Freemasonry. He saw it as an institution to bring together men of all faiths, class and race and he “de-Christianised” Freemasonry to facilitate this objective. He saw it as an institution, as we say, to make good men better. In a marketing sense he “positioned” Freemasonry as a worthy and noble institution in society and one desirable of membership and, further, to give it a significance presence in London with the building of the Freemasons’ Hall some 240 years ago, a hall which has been rebuilt on the same site three times. (The original land and improvements were purchased in 1774 and unsurprisingly incorporated a pub which operated as the “Freemasons Tavern” from 1775). He established and maintained the infrastructure for the convenient participation by Freemasons.

In the difficult social and economic days post WW1 and up to and through the Great Depression until WW2, our leaders too must have stood on the shoulders of giants. Most of the essential developmental work, property acquisition and the construction of facilities took place during this period, however most of the facilities now no longer exist and our position in society seems to have slipped markedly. For our future we again need leaders who are giants who will stand on the shoulders of other giants, not pygmies.

Yours fraternally,

Don Paterson